July 23, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana 

‘AN UNWANTED PROPOSAL’ — The P250 congestion fee to be collected from private motorists entering the central business district and some parts of the city as proposed by  Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation has caused a public uproar not only among Baguio residents but also people from other places, who share the view that it is better to have the plan tested first in more congested roads in the greater Metro Manila. City Mayor Benjamin Magalong has clarified the plan remains a proposal and citizens’ participation is needed to guide the city government in its decision. — Harley Palangchao

City Mayor Benjamin Magalong has called the backlash on the plan to impose a P250 congestion fee “premature”, saying it is still a proposal and public engagement is continuing.

Magalong made the clarification following public uproar over reports about the plan on social media and news websites, which he said are malicious and lacking information since it did not consider the entirety of the proposal.

He told reporters on June 10 that the proposed P250 congestion fee is part of the Smart Urban Mobility Project presented by Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation (MPTC) under the public-private partnership setup, which conducted a study on the amount of congestion fee.

The study showed that at P250 congestion fee, people would think about using their private vehicle and change their mind using it on a particular time of the day or during rush hours.

Magalong stressed the amount is not yet final.

“We are still having stakeholders’ meetings because part of a transparent government is to advocate for citizens participation through engagement where we explain everything so that everybody would know our purpose. The P250 congestion fee is just a proposal, hindi pa final ‘yan,” the mayor said.

He said the proposal has five components. First is traffic management with the use of artificial intelligence; parking management also using AI; making public transport management more efficient; law enforcement, which includes non-contact apprehension but which is still a subject of a pending case in court; and mobility, which includes the imposition of a congestion fee. 

“If public transport is efficient, residents and tourists will have the option not to use their private vehicles. At ano ba ang amount na kailangang bayaran para at certain part of the day, especially during rush hour, doon magkakaron ng tinatawag nating mobility fee,” he said.

Magalong said the proposal also seeks to exempt public transport from the congestion fee, as well as the private sector, which would be issued a coupon that they can use for the entire week every week to enter the central business district for free.

“The problem (with the reports) is they made it appear it would be throughout the day or week. Kulang ang information, kaya ganito ang backlash. We have been working on this for three years now as part of our smart mobility master plan, which we always present to the public upang maintindihan. Wala pang implementation, ongoing pa ang stakeholders’ engagement,” he said.

If the residents oppose the plan, Magalong asked for better options.

“All the five components of the project are critical, and all without controversy except for the mobility fee because this will cause change. But ano ba ang options natin? We are getting suggestions,” he said.

If the plan works out, Magalong believes it will not bring down tourist arrivals in the city. “Perception is different from study, and this plan has undergone study. If we compare, other areas impose expensive environmental fee like Boracay, but still many tourists visit the place. And that’s per person, this is per vehicle.”

He stressed the city is in the process of engaging with stakeholders and there would be more meetings to be held to listen to the sentiments of the public on the proposed project.

Public consultations, one of which was held on June 5 that considered exempting residents from the mobility fee, are in compliance with the new Public-Private Partnership law.

The proposal of the MPTC was in response to the city government’s call in 2022 for unsolicited proposals to improve the city’s traffic situation, solve its public transportation woes, and to align with the city government’s traffic policies to help improve road discipline and safety.